VANCOUVER, BC – The key offseason focus for Vancouver Whitecaps FC was building for the future and looking at the development of their younger players, so the 'Caps surprised many with their strong early-season form.
But with that came the raising of expectations that this was a team that should be heading to the playoffs. The 'Caps have had mixed results in the summer – tied for the least total losses in MLS with four, but also with four straight draws that could have just as easily been wins. So just what should observers expect from the club this year?
“I said all along it's going to be a work in progress here," head coach Carl Robinson said this week of his team's strong start. "I want to develop young players, coach young players and with young players you get ups and downs and I think you've seen that over the last six or eight games, really.
"We got off to a super start, but that was all credit to the guys and the work they put in. That work hasn't changed, the effort hasn't changed, the technical quality hasn't changed, it's just that we haven't had good fortune."
Success and failure are fine lines in soccer management and many coaches don't get time to bring through their young players because of the demands for instant success.
The postseason remains Vancouver's goal, but with the 'Caps development plan in mind, would Robinson be reasonably happy with not making the playoffs this season if it meant developing a team ready to compete for top honours next year and in the years to come?
"That's a great question. I want both," he said. "The reality is can we get both? Well, I'll tell you in 10, 13 games. I'm more focused here on what I'm doing with the development of these young players and developing a team, not just to be successful this year but to be successful in the next two, three, five years, because that's the most important thing when you're building a club.
"I know what we're doing is right and how we're developing players is right and the players are getting opportunities. More young players will continue to get opportunities if I think it's right and they are close, but they'll all be better for next year, as I will be as well."
With an 11-day break between matches, Whitecaps FC headed back to training this week after four days off to rest and reflect on four straight draws. Vancouver are hoping that this break – unlike the June World Cup hiatus that seemed to kill off their springtime momentum – has come at just the right time as they look to regain some of their goalscoring form.
"I think it's important that we got it at this time because I think you see today that they've come back refreshed," Robinson told reporters at training on Monday. "They've come back in an intense mode, which is good. The last time when we come back, because we'd done so well, we maybe took the foot off the gas a little bit, not intentionally, but that won't happen this time.
"It's not nice drawing all these games, but we're picking things up as we go along. We want to win more. We know we need to win more if we're going to get to our end target this year and that'll continue for the next 13-odd games."